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Methodology for Subjective Perceptions.

The purpose of the scientific method is to establish "truths" that are evident to everybody using objective observations and rules of deduction. The Methodology for Subjective Perceptions provides a basis for working with events that are outside the domain of the scientific method. The Methodology is not intended to reveal universal truths. It is intended to solve problems and provide perspectives for each individual according to his or her abilities. The rules of logic remain the same. The rules of deduction remain the same, but the rules of evidence are subjective.

Each person may have different individual perceptions. For example, a college student's record player was stolen. He called the police and described the lost record player as "brown". The record player was never found because it was actually "red". The student did not know that he was colorblind. What is "truth" for one person may not be so for another because each individual's perception is unique. A person's perception cannot be shared with anybody else except through communication. Communication is fallible, subject to exaggeration, falsification, and misinterpretation.

In contrast to philosophies, religions, and ideologies dictated by some Authority, the Methodology for Subjective Perceptions encourages independent thinking. What we learn and who teaches us becomes important. As students, we can be accepting and unquestioning or we can be critical and questioning. When we are young, we are in the first category. We accept the opinions of others and adopt their philosophies without proof or questions. We can be easily manipulated or molded. When we grow up, we apply our minds to what we learn and we can judge and question our teachers, their teachings, and their motives. Our life experiences help to protect us from manipulation.

We can only talk about teachers and their motives when we are discussing subjects of personal perceptions, philosophy, doctrines, or beliefs. In the hard sciences, where there are objective rules of evidence, students will eventually detect mistakes made by the teacher. In philosophy or religion, the teacher may have an agenda that includes your conversion to a cult or to make you believe an article of faith. Some of these indoctrination sessions may include isolation (sometimes called a "retreat") and deprivation of food/drink ("fasting"), or sleep. Other coercive techniques may include attempts to undermine an individual's self-confidence with statements like "You still don't know enough to make a judgement", "You need the talent or vision", "If you don't believe in this, your soul will be lost", "That opinion is heresy", etc. Words like "pagan", "infidel", "heretic", "heathen", and "gentile" are often used to subdue, alienate, and deride dissenting opinions. People frequently accept indoctrination because they are afraid to speak up, contradict, or challenge opinions stated with great conviction by distinguished persons or a "higher authority". Lack of confidence in one's own perception or ideas and the desire to avoid a conflict or confrontation are other reasons. Awareness of these manipulation techniques may prevent their being used on us.

We have to develop reliance on our own senses and abilities. We would like to be like the child who asked "Why is the emperor walking around in his underwear?" when everybody else believed that the emperor was wearing a robe that only wise people could see. We cannot fall into a trap of agreeing with the point of view of someone else because they have a higher authority. We have to trust our own senses and judgement for things that cannot be objectively proved. The only reality that we are capable of perceiving is provided by our senses and our logic. We should strive to consider conventional physical explanations before jumping to hypotheses for which we have no basis. Some accounts of "poltergeists" that make noises in the walls in the middle of the night completely ignore the simpler explanation that the noises are made by nesting squirrels, birds, or raccoons. Are there facts that can be beyond our comprehension? Undoubtedly there are, but we should not believe anything that we cannot sense directly or indirectly or which is logically nonsensical.

We also have to take a practical approach toward solving problems. Do you want to bend a key? Take some pliers and bend it. Do you want to move a saltshaker without touching it? Ask a friend to move it for you; the word "please" works wonders. Don't waste mental energy trying telekinesis if you have tried it for five minutes and nothing happened. Don't do things the hard way. It is said that faith can move mountains, but shovels have been proved to really work regardless of what you believe. Make sure that you really want to move the mountain before you start shoveling, though.

Precognition is the ability to see into the future. Scientists have always been particularly incredulous of psychics' claims to be able to foretell events. However, if you would ask a scientist to tell you when the next lunar eclipse will occur, a prediction will be made. The prediction will be made by application of Newton's laws of gravitation to the orbital paths of the earth and the moon. Why shouldn't we be able to predict what people will do? People are subject to physical and chemical laws that influence their behavior. We can predict death. Life is 100% fatal. Everybody dies. Life insurance companies make it their business to try to predict how long people will live. Biologists assess health risks based on body weight, proportion of fat intake, and exercise habits. The groundwork is already there for making predictions about people. We need to extend the techniques of prediction into the mental area, the psychic domain. We need to develop psychical laws.

Psychical laws would enable us to predict how a person would react under specific circumstances. The "laws" don't need to be perfectly accurate. Ninety percent accuracy might be practical enough. How do we do it? The reaction of a person depends on their personality and their previous experience. The person may not react twice in the same manner. At the outset, we would need to have substantial information about the person whose reaction we want to predict. If the person is cooperative, the information may be gathered by questionnaires or tests. Otherwise, deductions need to be made about the person's psychical constitution based on his or her past actions. In a later section, we will assess our own character traits and try to make some deductions about how these traits affect our own future actions and the actions of other persons possessing these traits.

Thus far, we have listed as requirements for the Methodology a) independent thinking, b) reliance on your own perceptions, and c) a practical approach toward solving problems. The Methodology itself consists of five basic steps that could be applied to any type of problem solving.

  1. Target your goals
  2. Make full use of your senses
  3. Apply your mind
  4. Evaluate solutions
  5. Draw conclusions

Target your goals.

Solving the right problem is the most important aspect of problem solving. Frequently, we make assumptions that lead us away from the correct solution. For example, an elementary school problem describes people getting in and out of an elevator. First, two men and one woman go into an empty elevator. At the next stop, one man gets out and three women go in. At the next floor, two men get in, and a woman and a man go out. We cannot solve a problem until we know what the problem is. This problem intentionally mentions men and women to direct your attention to the occupants of the elevator and then surprises you with a question that you might not have expected. How many stops did the elevator make? In our eagerness to show how smart we are, we typically start focusing on the details and do not wait to find out what the real problem is.

It is also important to determine if the problem has a solution. Has somebody else solved this problem before? If so, how? If not, do you have a workable plan for solving it? Do you have the qualifications, experience, and education required to solve it? Are you willing to work toward fulfillment of the solution? No one can solve problems that have no solution and no one can solve any problems without spending some effort. If your goal is to make a million dollars in the stock market, you have to have some starting capital, you have to know how the stock market works, you have to study carefully the companies in which you want to invest, you have to have contingency plans for how to cope and overcome losses, etc. If you are a detective and want to solve a criminal case, you have to get all the facts by talking with witnesses, you have to study the physical evidence, you have to set up a convincing case for a conviction in court, etc. If you have a choice of two jobs, you have to look at the prospects for advancement, you have to consider your duties, with whom you will be working, and who will be your boss. Even if you have a clear picture of what you want to accomplish, there are no guarantees that you will succeed. Your plans for a million dollars may crumble due to volatile markets, your criminal may have committed a perfect crime, or you end up working for the boss from hell. One thing is certain, however. If you do not have clearly defined goals, you cannot focus your efforts toward a solution.

Make full use of your senses.

Making use of your senses is the subjective part of the Methodology. This is the stage where your special sensory skills can be put to use. If you have extraordinary hearing, use it. If you have a photographic memory make sure that it gets used for most of your problem solving. Nobody else has your specific impressions of your environment. Your point of view and your observations are unique. Part of using your senses may involve using instrumentation or interaction with others. Lucky charms, divining rods, and other magical devices that do not have reproducible and verifiable functionality do not count as "instrumentation". If you don't have perfect eyesight and you need to see something clearly, use your glasses. Make observations from several points of view to get good depth perception and to confirm impressions. Take photographs if you need to remember something in great detail. Use a tape recorder or a notepad to record your observations for later review. Make sure that your senses are at their best by avoiding intoxicants that affect your perceptions. "Interaction with others" may involve using another being (not necessarily human) to make the observations for you. For example, a blind person may use a seeing-eye dog to get around, a truck driver may use directions from someone else when backing up into a tight spot, a hunter may use a dog's sense of smell for tracking game, or a miner may use a canary to warn him of pockets of unbreathable odorless gases. Whenever you trust someone else's perception more than your own you may find that the conclusions that you reach are unsatisfactory. How many hunters have been led astray by dogs that followed a rabbit's trail rather than the fox's? And how many truck drivers have crashed while backing up because they misinterpreted their helper's signals? Reliance on your own senses is the only way to avoid such problems, but you don't always have this choice.

The application of logic may be necessary to determine which perceptions you can trust. Let us say that you are not under the influence of any drugs and you see an apparition of a dead person, what should you do? How do you distinguish hallucinations from real perceptions? How do you know if your senses fool you or if your observations are real? One time-honored test is to pinch yourself to make sure that you are not dreaming. If you should tell someone else about your experience and they don't observe the same things, does this mean that you are crazy or that something is wrong with you? Or does this prove that you have more refined perception that enables you to see things that others do not see? What would it be like to live in a world where only you have color vision and everyone else is colorblind? The difference between real perceptions and hallucinations is that you can repeat and reproduce results from real perceptions but not from hallucinations. In a world where you are the only person with color vision, you would eventually be able to prove to everyone else by objective means that colors, or at least different frequencies of light, do exist.

Apply your mind.

The application of your mind is the creative aspect of problem solving. In this step you want to grasp the whole problem and look at it from different perspectives without selecting a solution. This is an unstructured process of contemplating and writing down all ideas regardless of how sensible they are. You can stretch your imagination to the limit and use brainstorming techniques. Assimilate facts, enumerate impressions, explore your feelings. If some solution gives you a bad feeling, write down what that feeling is for further evaluation later. Use your dreams to get insights into the problem. You may even be able to experience "lucid dreaming" where you are in control of your dreams and can take them in any direction you wish. Make sure to write down any ideas that come in your sleep. Bertrand Russel, the mathematician and philosopher, reported that he was able to solve during his sleep mathematical problems that had been troubling him the evening before. Try meditation. Focus on the problem that you want to solve. Record any solutions that may occur to you while you are in a relaxed state. Try looking at the problem from someone else's perspective. How would they feel and why? How would you react in their place? How would they approach the problem? Putting yourself in someone else's shoes is not easy to do. You need to take their motivations, needs, and personalities into consideration, but if you manage to do it, you can sometimes get insightful solutions.

Evaluate solutions.

Evaluation of solutions is the analytical aspect of the reasoning process. This is the stage where the relative merits of every solution are calculated. You will need to use your past experience and logic. Some solutions may have some serious drawbacks or may not be ethical or legal. Other solutions may not take into account all the factors and may be incomplete. Incomplete solutions may be evaluated to see if they can be extended to fit the problem. Illegal solutions need to be examined to see if there are legal loopholes or whether the laws can be amended to make the solutions legal. Many successful solutions are sometimes found outside the framework of conventional thinking. The application of the mind without restrictions and the subsequent evaluation and adaptation of the solutions is a powerful method of problem solving.

If you can determine some statistical basis for choosing a solution, use it. Many times, the problems that we are trying to solve have been solved by others before us. How is one solution better than another? If we know the results based on our experience, the solution with the better chance of success should be given greater consideration. However, sometimes statistics and our intuition are in conflict. We know that a particular solution worked well in a specific case, but our current problem has some new twists that may make that solution risky. The risk factors should be noted, and a guess should be made about the relative merit of the solution.

The evaluation phase is where psychical laws come into play for problems dealing with interpersonal relationships. Suppose that you are trying to get a raise or promotion in your office. You could work hard on your current project and thus have some solid results on which to base your request. You could also try to befriend the boss without working harder on your project. Or, you could just ask the boss for a raise without doing anything else. The approach that you take will depend on how much time you want to invest to get your goal. The personality of your boss and the rules for raises, promotions, seniority, and fairness also play a major role. Many times the best way to get information is to ask the boss directly "What would it take for me to get a raise?" Make sure that you know all the facts before embarking on an approach, and evaluate your approach at regular intervals to make sure that you are still on target.

Draw conclusions.

The final stage of the Methodology is choosing a solution. This is the deductive portion of the reasoning process. We have listed possible solutions, we have evaluated them and ranked them, and now we make the final choice. For some problems we have the opportunity to go back and try other solutions. For other problems our choice of solutions is irrevocable. Once we have made a choice, the circumstances change and we can never go back to the initial state. If we made a wrong choice, we will regret it, and we will have a new and different problem to solve.

Time also becomes a factor in selecting a solution. Our lifetimes are finite. If we want to accomplish something, the solution should not require more time than our expected life span. Lack of action, sometimes unwittingly, becomes another choice. You cannot think too long about which pedal to push to keep your car from falling in a ditch or to avoid a collision. Good luck is said to consist of preparation and opportunity. If we know which options we have, we are more likely to know what to do when the opportunity comes.

Next - Personality Exercises

© Copyright  - Antonio Zamora

Our Senses
Inputs into the Body
Outputs from the Body
The Mind
The Scientific Method
Subjective Perceptions
Personality Exercises